National News

The Pimp Who Won the Primary: ‘I Know How Donald Trump Feels’

Posted June 15, 2018 2:31 p.m. EDT

A Republican primary race in Nevada this week ended in victory for a businessman and reality television star who describes himself as a pimp.

Dennis Hof, 71, is a brothel owner running to represent Nevada’s 36th District in the State Assembly. On Tuesday, Hof defeated the three-term Republican incumbent, James Oscarson, in the deep-red district.

“I’m fighting the establishment, and I know how Donald Trump feels,” said Hof, who campaigned mainly on lowering taxes and will face off against the Democrat Lesia Romanov in November.

Romanov, 51, is a relative outsider, too; she has been an educator for two decades and is campaigning for education reform and fiscal accountability.

“This is my first experience in politics,” she said. “Just jumping right into the fire.”

She added that if Hof’s primary victory inflates voter turnout in November, it could work in her favor. “I don’t think party lines are going to be as big of an issue as they would normally be,” she said.

Like the president, Hof has been accused of sexual assault. At least two women have come forward publicly, but no charges were brought against him because the statute of limitations ran out. Hof has denied the allegations. “I’m around 540 girls in a very sexually charged environment at all times,” he said. “Sex is not a problem for me, and I would never be involved in anything like that.”

Hof published a book called “The Art of the Pimp” in 2016 and was the star of the HBO television series “Cathouse,” which focused on the Moonlite Bunny Ranch, his brothel east of Carson City. In 2015, Lamar Odom, the former NBA forward who married the reality television star Khloé Kardashian, was hospitalized after he was found unconscious at another brothel owned by Hof.

Hof’s victory came amid debates over whether prostitution should be outlawed in Nevada — the only state in the country where it is legal. “The religious right needs to know it’s not going away,” Hof said of prostitution, adding that attempts to ban things like alcohol, marijuana and prostitution only drive the industries underground and allow criminals to thrive.

In addition to championing lower taxes, he said he would defend the Second Amendment and the rights of private well owners in his district.

He drew parallels between his voter appeal and that of President Donald Trump. “Both can’t be bought, and both can’t be bossed,” he said. “And that resonated big.”

Kimberly Mull, a survivor of child sex trafficking and a founder of No Little Girl, a campaign to outlaw prostitution in Nevada, said the state’s brothels were places of rampant abuse and exploitation. Hof’s primary victory was “mind-boggling and it’s hurtful to survivors,” she said. “It’s hurtful to victims. It’s hurtful to women.”

Still, she said, Romanov’s chances in November are slim. In the presidential election, 68 percent of voters in Nye County, which covers much of the state’s 36th Assembly District, chose Trump.

“I hope that this little district within Nevada can be an example of how we as a country, we as a community, can go above the party name and the party identity and just vote for human decency and kindness and women’s equality,” she said. “But, you know, I would also like a unicorn.”

Brothels in Nevada are mostly in rural areas; they are not legal in Las Vegas, Carson City or Reno. Hof said his brothels had brought tax revenues to the state and its counties.

A report released by Nye County last month found that in 2016 and 2017, brothels there generated more than $392,000 for the county, offset by costs of just over $31,000. But the report did not cover 2018 and so did not include county expenses related to three lawsuits filed by Hof against county officials this year. (One complaint accuses an official of defamation, and two others are related to the removal of brothel signs.)

Romanov said she would defer to voters’ wishes on the issue of legal prostitution. “I’m here to represent the people,” she said of her campaign. “It’s not an extension of my ego.”

Hof said he was confident about his chances.

“I’m going to prevail,” he said. “When you’re in the reddest district in Nevada that is very libertarian-leaning, a Democrat is going to have a tough row to hoe.”